On Sept. 19, members of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville gathered at the Student Union for the Dear World: Storytelling Show and Photo Reveal.
Dear World is associated with the Vol is a Verb campaign. Each participant created a message on their skin to ignite a story with one another. This event consisted of four student speakers, a speech from UT’s Dean of Students Shea Kidd-Houze and the students’ portrait slideshow from the open photoshoot on Sept. 12.
“Compelling, raw, vulnerable, life unfiltered”
Kidd-Houze described the Dear World experience as “compelling,” “raw,” “vulnerable” and “life unfiltered.” She opened the showcase with a speech about diversity and inclusion on campus.
“How do we make our campus one where every single student feels like they matter and belong?” Kidd-Houze said.
Her answer is the Vol is Verb campaign and specifically, Dear World. She reflected on her personal experience to bring this campaign to life.
“Once upon a time in my life I began to love myself, kinky curls and all. That’s what someone wrote on my arm. So that’s what this is about, being you and that being you is beautiful,” Kidd-Houze said. “Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it’s ugly and that’s what makes us who we are and that we not only embrace ourselves, but we embrace other people. So what better way than Dear World to think about that as a first step of the campaign.”
Additionally, Kidd-Houze briefly addressed the topic of community building at UT:
“The key to building a community is sharing the co-creation of storytelling,” Kidd-Houze said.
“Magic, unifying, an experience”
UT junior Emily Medford described the Dear World showcase as “magic,” “unifying” and “an experience.”
Medford reflected on the story behind her portrait:
“As a low-income, first-generation college student from a small town, knowing the multiple barriers I faced to get here, I had to figure out how, when and where to apply to college,” Medford said. “I had to figure out how I was going to afford it all on my own. So getting here was hard, but staying here was even harder.”
She continued her speech, explaining why she wrote “Imposter” on her arm for this campaign:
“Imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts and skills,” Medford said. “I’m not here by luck. I’m here by the consistent hard work and effort that I have been putting into my academic career for years. And I owe to myself to step back and appreciate that and find pride in it.”
Additionally, she explained how the Dear World showcase was empowering to her:
“It was a great way to feel heard, to feel that I had something important to say,” Medford said.
“Interactive, storytelling, connection”
Campus Events Board Ambassador and host of the showcase Emma Heins described Dear World as “interactive,” “storytelling” and provided “connection.”
“We really don’t know what someone is going through until we ask or they tell us. It’s very easy as students to have those surface-level conversations,” Heins said. “Sometimes there are influential moments in someone’s life that you really don’t even know. So I think this was really important to me to get to know some of these experiences. Now we all fundamentally just understand each other.”
Vol is a Verb
Although the Dear World showcase has come to a close, there are many ways UT members can further their connections with others. As Kidd-Houze encouraged, people should think about their stories because everyone has one.
The Vol is a Verb campaign is an initiative on campus to create a conversation around belonging at UT. The initiative’s website states, “[The campaign] is a collective call to action to work together as a campus community to help make our campus a place where everyone belongs.”
More information about upcoming plans can be found on the Vol is a Verb action plan site.
Edited by Ainsley Kelso and Ciera Noe
Featured photo by Madison Adkins